Skills for Life: Joint Base Andrews celebrates Project SEARCH graduates

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Walderbach
  • | 316th Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base Andrews hosted a graduation ceremony for three students from the Project SEARCH program at the Military & Family Readiness Center, May 9.

According to the program’s official website, Project SEARCH is a program that allows recent high school graduates with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in a one-year school-to-work program.

Originally started in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the program has since expanded to more than 500 locations worldwide. Andrews is one of six Air Force bases to have a Project SEARCH program.

This marks the seventh year that Andrews has had the Project SEARCH program. This year, the three Project SEARCH interns from the Prince George's County Public Schools system worked at various locations on base, including the commissary, exchange, library and the thrift store.

“It allows people to see Andrews as a community partner rather than just the base,” said Kristofer Zimmerman, 316th Wing Community Planning liaison. “We’ve got students coming in from outside and we’re teaching them how to work and how to live life. That helps build our relationship with the outside community whether it’s the local government, nonprofit organizations or the communities in general.”

The skill trainers for Project SEARCH play pivotal roles for the program’s students, providing them daily guidance and support over the 10-month program.

“We have interns who have already shut down, and they come to us afraid to open up, but once they get into the program, they open up and mature into young men and that’s why I’m proud to be a role model for them,” said Roland White, Project SEARCH skills instructor.

As a mother of one of the graduating Project SEARCH students, Janet McKoy-Davis appreciated that the program set realistic goals for her son once he graduated from Project SEARCH, and that it would be something they could work towards together.

Her son, Nolan Davis, who describes himself as flexible, a good leader and a team player, interned at the Andrews Library, commissary and food court.

"He’s more independent, he has much more confidence in himself,” said McKoy-Davis. “I really enjoyed how all of the staff members welcomed my son, I was even able to visit the library one day and they had nothing but good things to say about my son.”

The Project SEARCH program offers numerous benefits to its students, including enhanced independence, confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, students acquire transferable, competitive and marketable job skills, such as stocking shelves, inventory control management and customer service.

“It’s all about building that confidence,” said Zimmerman. “When they start the program, they’re not very confident, but by the end, they’re like ‘Man, I can stand up, I can talk, I can sing, I can dance.’”

All of the Project SEARCH participants graduate from the program equipped with employment skills and strong resumés where they are often employed in nontraditional, complex and productive jobs.